Production of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has been suspended at a plant in Wales after it received a suspicious package.
The Wockhardt UK plant was evacuated and a bomb disposal unit seen at the jab producer’s site at Wrexham Industrial Estate in Holt on Wednesday.
Wockhardt said it still aimed to stick to the “previously approved production schedule”. Downing Street said it is being regularly updated on the incident.
Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said he was working with police and the military to find out more. Police said a cordon had been put in place near the Wockhardt plant and the public have been asked to keep away. There are no reports of any injuries.
In a statement Wockhardt UK said: “Production at the Wockhardt site is currently on hold while the situation is resolved, because the safety of our staff is paramount.
“But we still intend to progress with the previously approved production schedule.”
In an earlier statement, the global pharmaceutical and biotechnology company confirmed it had “partially evacuated” its site to protect staff.
The Wrexham plant has the capability to produce around 300 million doses of the vaccine a year.
John Roberts, who runs CMS Wrexham Ltd, next door to the plant, said he heard a “big bang” at about 11:35 GMT – although he could not say where the noise came from. “We’re next door to Wockhardt. Three of us were talking then we heard a hell of an explosion or a bang,” he said. “I went outside, couldn’t see anything. I looked the other side and two blokes were on the roof. “The next thing the police had blocked off the road and were looking in the bushes.”
His son Mark Roberts said: “The police just closed the road off and we’ve heard there’s a bomb disposal unit. “They’ve been here about an hour or so – we’re on tenterhooks. “Boris Johnson toured the factory around December time, so I wonder if that’s raised the profile, as it’s where they make the Oxford vaccine.”
First Minister Mark Drakeford tweeted: “We are working with local police and the military to find out more about this incident. “Thank you to the security personnel who are on-site to protect lives and ensure the safety of our vaccine supply. “This highlights the vital role they play in keeping us all safe. Diolch.”
Visiting the plant in November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson it could provide “salvation for humanity”.
Wockhardt UK entered an agreement in August to help prepare the vaccine for distribution. When the company’s contract was announced, Ravi Limaye, managing director, said: “We are immensely proud to have been selected to partner with the UK government on this project. “We have a sophisticated sterile manufacturing facility and a highly skilled workforce.”
On Thursday Wrexham council leader Mark Pritchard said teams had worked to ensure the vaccine was not lost in the floods.
The Welsh Government said there had been “no adverse effects” on the coronavirus vaccine roll-out.